FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If you jumped in your car in Youngstown, Ohio, and drove about 70 miles to the northwest, you would more likely than not end up in Cleveland. Jump in that same car and drive roughly 70 miles to the southeast, and you would land in Pittsburgh.
Youngstown, Ohio, is decidedly much more Browns and Steelers country than, say, Indians or Pirates territory -- football has long ruled the roost in northeast Ohio and west Pennsylvania. But one relatively small travel ball organization based in Youngstown has a team in Southwest Florida this week looking to make a name for itself on the ball fields of Lee County, Fla.
The Ohio Glaciers, a group of about 15 young players from eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania are here for the elite 14-team 14u Perfect Game World Series, which began its five day run Tuesday and concludes on Saturday. The 16-team 15u and 16u Perfect Game World Series' are running concurrently.
The Ohio Glaciers organization was founded by Anthony Vross in Youngstown about six years ago. It boasts a large indoor training facility that features an indoor infield and batting cages, and an outdoor field. The organization also operate 10 other outdoor fields in the Youngstown area during the summer months, according to John Zizzo, this Glaciers team's head coach.
"We have a real nice organization that concentrates primarily on the development of the kids," Zizzo said Wednesday morning from Terry Park. "We're a group that really believes in the journey versus just putting some goals out there to win games. We're trying to get out kids to college and with the cost of college today it's easy to get the parents to buy into that."
Speaking of the parents, many of them serve as coaches in the Glaciers' younger programs, which play primarily in local tournaments in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Zizzo said that with the upper age divisions, the organization is trying to "get everybody on the same page" with the developmental program that has been put forth.
"Our parents have been great all year," Zizzo said. "They let us do our job and they've been very supportive and our group travels with their parents -- their parents house them and feed them while they're on the road." That explained the large contingent of parents on hand at Terry Park Wednesday.
All of the players on the Glaciers' roster are making their Perfect Game tournament debuts in what is arguably the most challenging 14u national championship event in the country. Teams from nationally acclaimed organizations like the Houston Banditos, Orlando Scorpions, South Florida Elite Squad, Tri-State Arsenal, NorCal Baseball and So Cal NTT are entered in the event, representing states from California to New Jersey.
Not intimidated, the Glaciers promptly won their first two games of six-game pool-play, beating Team Northwest from Puyallup, Wash., 7-2, and escaping the powerful Banditos, 5-4.
Jake Trautman (2017, Pittsburg) was 3-for-5 (.600) in the first two games, while Steve Kokoski (2017. Fredonia, Pa.), Lucas Nasonti (2017, Champion, Ohio) and Cade Negley (2017, Butler, Pa.) were all 2-for-5 (.400).
Negley, a right-hander, also pitched five shutout innings, allowing no earned runs on two hits and striking out four; righty Parker Shannon (2017, Strongsville, Pa.) pitched a complete game, seven-strikeout, three-hitter in the win over Team Northwest. Zizzo used five pitchers in the first two wins and they combined to go 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA, allowing five hits in 13 innings with 12 strikeouts.
"The competition we play against down here is better than the competition we play against all summer long," he said. "We play against some good teams, but some of the tournaments we go to you don't get the good teams until after pool-play."
When asked what makes an event like the 14u PGWS so appealing, Zizzo noted the current and former MLB spring training facilities in Lee County that are used for the tournament and the competition that is offered as the PG World Series' biggest drawing cards. He called the tournaments "extremely well run" and "first class all the way."
This is the fourth team Zizzo has been associated with that he's brought to Perfect Game tournaments, but it's the first time he's come with one associated with Ohio Glaciers Baseball. The previous teams were based in Canada -- Ontario Orioles Baseball and Ontario International Baseball Academy.
"It's a great opportunity for the kids," Zizzo said. "I've always wanted my teams involved and not just because of the experience but because of the exposure with college coaches; Perfect Game does a great job publicizing the kids that play in their tournaments. ... Our organization, the Ohio Glaciers, our little thing is 'Health and development equals wins.' If we stay healthy, that allows us to develop our kids and if we develop properly we'll get our share of wins."
Zizzo, by his own account, has been involved in baseball for 42 years, and previously served as the head coach at Youngstown State. He also was a minor league coach and scout in the Colorado Rockies organization and did some managing for independent teams in both the Northern League and the Frontier League.
In addition to his field manager responsibilities with the Ohio Glaciers, he also serves as the organization's director of development, which oversees 13 teams in age groups from 9u through 18u.
"I use the same expression every coach uses: 'It's better than a real job,'" Zizzo said with a laugh. "I love baseball, obviously, and I don't know if I could even do another job -- I haven't had another one for a long time. It's a great opportunity for me at this point in my life to be able to develop young kids and get out for 50 or 60 games over the summer and have some fun coaching them. There's still nothing better than going between those lines; that's the best part of it all."
The level of competition the Glaciers will face in their final pool games Thursday and Friday won't drop off. They have pool games remaining with the Georgia Jackets (Milton, Ga.), Orlando Scorpions (Altamonte Springs, Fla.), South Florida Elite Squad (Miami) and Tri-State Arsenal (Flemington, N.J.) and are then guaranteed at least one more game, either in Saturday's semifinals or in one of the placing games (5th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th) that will be played Friday afternoon.
"We feel that if we play well we can beat anybody," Zizzo said. "There is a consensus of 'travel ball select' that says this team is the top team in the country and this team is 10th, and based on that we've beaten some top-20 teams this summer. As with any baseball team at any level, most of your losses come from beating yourself, and if we play well we can play with or beat anyone we play against."